The news has been dominated by Covid-19 over the last six months, and rightly so, but in that time, we seem to have lost focus on another important issue: the environment.
We have all seen the images of beauty spots covered in litter, where social distancing and a simple need to get outside seems to have pushed environmental concerns to one side.
In addition, the increase of plastic bags to avoid contamination in home food deliveries is just one example of where we’ve needed to focus on different priorities to get through this difficult time safely.
It’s concerning that the focus on the environment seems to have become a bit lost. However, there is some good news. School uniform suppliers and retailers are at the forefront of the green revolution in the clothing industry and are leading the fight to deliver more sustainable products.
Durability = sustainability
Schoolwear is already amongst the least environmentally damaging clothing sectors – simply by dint of the number of times the garments are worn. According to research by Barnardo’s, the average garment in the UK is worn just seven times. The average school uniform garment, in contrast, is worn over 300 times.
To produce a single cotton T-shirt or blouse uses 3,000 litres of water and creates 11kg of CO2. The message is clear. Sustainability begins with a simple premise: buy fewer garments and wear them out. By adopting a smart and consistent school uniform, and encouraging recirculation of barely worn garments, school uniforms in the UK are estimated to save the global economy some 13 million tonnes of CO2.
Many retailers are now using recycled polyester in sportswear and even blazers. Harvested from used plastic bottles, the polyester is respun and either blended with new fibre or used as a pure yarn. Every kilogram of recycled polyester uses up to five recycled bottles, which would otherwise find their way into landfill, or even worse into the world’s oceans.
In addition, reusing polyester this way substantially reduces the carbon footprint of the finished garment, avoiding the need to create new polyester, which requires over 5kg of CO2 per tonne of yarn produced.
Cotton is a very thirsty crop, requiring immense amounts of water for irrigation. But it tends to be grown in arid areas where water is a precious resource. Arguably, organic cotton is not the solution. This focuses on pesticide and fertiliser use, and whilst these are problems, the major issue is water loss.
The Better Cotton Initiative educates farmers in water and land husbandry, and drives best practice across the industry. Leading and forward-thinking schoolwear retailers such as Schoolblazer are now members of the Better Cotton Initiative and are actively working with suppliers across the schoolwear industry to ensure that the cotton sourced is sustainable.
There is a significant push across the industry to reduce plastic packaging. Whilst this is often vital to protect garments, there is a renewed focus on ensuring any packaging used is minimised and recycled.
Stevensons have now moved all of their carrier bags to a biodegradable plastic and Schoolblazer have removed over 50% of their outer packaging and moved to 100% recycled shipping bags for their online orders.
In conclusion, whilst a school uniform may not, at first glance, look like the greenest thing on the planet, there is clear evidence that the fight for sustainability and a reduced environmental impact is helped by a strong and consistent policy.
Schools can help by encouraging the recycling of garments through second-hand schemes and by ensuring that their suppliers are at the forefront of initiatives to reduce the environmental impact even further. Meanwhile the schoolwear industry will continue to put the drive towards ethical and environmental awareness at the top of the agenda.